LAZAREVAC, Yugoslavia (Reuters)—Serbian police ordered striking workers out of a strategic coal mine on Wednesday in an attempt to break the most serious of the wave of protests against President Slobodan Milosevic, workers said.
Thousands of people, including some Serb opposition leaders, streamed into the mine area from nearby towns to show support for the miners, skirting police cordons.
One group of people clashed with police after a bus full of strike supporters pushed a police van out of the way before continuing to the mine. Some police responded by using batons to beat men in the crowd who were on foot.
The crowd inside the mine area, which is located around 60 km south of Belgrade, later grew to around 10,000 and more were coming.
This is a battle for our nation, state, future of our children,
one opposition leader, Vuk Obradovic, told the crowd of around 10,000
inside the mine area.
He said opposition challenger Vojislav Kostunica was the new Yugoslav president after winning the September 24 presidential election and said Milosevic was history.
I promise you that we will not betray you, Obradovic, a former
Yugoslav army general, told the miners.
Another opposition leader, Vladan Batic, told the miners the
authorities could not scare them with
It is time for us to finish our battle today, tomorrow at the
latest and we will make Serbia democratic, Batic said.
While they spoke, police were standing by and did not intervene. Some were talking to people in the crowd.
Miners earlier addressed the police over loudspeakers, telling them:
You are our police, be with your people.
Kostunica was on his way to the mine, his office said.
Police had earlier swooped on the mine near the town of Lazarevac, entering the administrative building through a blockade made up of dredging machines, trucks and cranes.
Workers standing outside the building, where police and strike leaders were negotiating, said the police had told the strikers to leave.
The workers said they assumed police planned to bring in people from elsewhere to do their work and pledged to stay.
Earlier, a member of the striking committee told Reuters by telephone that police were arresting some of the strikers. But workers said later there did not seem to have been any arrests.
Police were grouped near the building, carrying helmets and gas masks but not in full riot gear.
The workers standing outside cheered when someone told them people were coming from other towns to help support them.
Local radio stations called people from nearby towns to come to help the strikers. An editor at Radio Lazarevac said around 100 police had entered the mine itself but that there were around 800 others waiting outside, as well as some troops.
The editor, Lilja Obradovic, said she had not heard of any arrests, and thought police might actually be negotiating with the miners.
In Belgrade, opposition economist Mladjan Dinkic told a crowd of around 10,000 people at a rally in the center of town that police had entered the mine and he called on Belgraders to go there to lend support to the strikers.
He said buses would set off from Belgrade later in the afternoon.
The coal strike is the most serious stoppage so far in a campaign of civil disobedience called by opposition leaders this week.